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Tirpitz - Nazi Pocket Battleship.

Career Kriegsmarine Jack
Namesake: Alfred von Tirpitz
Ordered: 14 June 1936
Builder: Kriegsmarinewerft, Wilhelmshaven
Laid down: 2 November 1936
Launched: 1 April 1939
Commissioned: 25 February 1941
Fate: Sunk by Royal Air Force bombers on 12 November 1944
General characteristics
Class and type: Bismarck-class battleship
Displacement: 42,900 tonnes standard
53,500 tonnes full load (1943)
Length: 253.6 m overall
241.7 m waterline
Beam: 36.0 m waterline
Draught: 9.9 m standard
10.6 m full load
Propulsion: 12 Wagner high-pressure boilers
3 Brown-Boveri geared turbines;
3 three-blade propellers, 4.70 m diameter
163,026 hp (121 MW)
Speed: 30.8 knots (57.0 km/h)
Range: 8,870  nautical miles (16,400 km) @ 19 knots (35 km/h)
Complement: 2,608
108 officers and 2,500 men (1943)
  • 8 380 mm/L48.5 SK-C/34 (42)
  • 12 150 mm/L55 SK-C/28
  • 16 105 mm/L65 SK-C/37 / SK-C/33
  • 16 37 mm/L83 SK-C/30
  • 12 20 mm/L65 MG C/30 (Single)
  • 72 20 mm/L65 MG C/38 (Quadruple)
  • 2 Quadruple 533 mm G7a T1 torpedo tubes
  • Belt: 145 to 320 mm
  • Deck: 50 to 120 mm
  • Bulkheads: 220 mm
  • Turrets: 130 to 360 mm
  • Barbettes: 342 mm
  • Conning tower: 360 mm
Aircraft carried: 4 Arado Ar196A-3, with 1 double-ended catapult

Nazi Pocket Battleship Tirpitz was the second Bismarck class battleship of the German Kriegsmarine, sister ship of Bismarck, named after Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz. She never fired against an enemy ship but spent most of World War II in various bases in German-occupied Norway, where her mere presence was a great threat to the Allies, tying up huge naval and air forces to make sure she could be dealt with if she ever made an offensive sortie, and causing a major convoy to scatter and be destroyed piecemeal by other ships. Due to her role and bases of operations she was dubbed the "Lonely Queen of the North" ("Den ensomme Nordens Dronning/"Den einsame norddronningi"") by the Norwegians. She was the second largest battleship ever built in Europe, with dimensions slightly exceeding those of her sister ship, but smaller than HMS Vanguard.

This battleship was launched on 1 April 1939, and she was planned to be deployed in a manner similar to the Bismarck, as a commerce raider to be sent against Allied merchant shipping in the North Atlantic. However, the loss of the Bismarck and other commerce raiders led to Adolf Hitler's losing faith in his surface navy, and instead she was ordered to be used for limited sorties.

Following the inception of the Arctic convoys and the Commando raid on V??>, the Tirpitz was sent to northern Norwegian waters in early 1942, where she spent most of World War II in the fjords, mostly in K?ord a branch of the Altafjord. She acted mainly as a fleet in being, tying up Royal Navy and U.S. Navy resources. She made three offensive sorties during her stay in Norway, two in 1942, and one in 1943. Despite her very limited offensive use, the armed forces of United Kingdom had a significant fear of the potential for destruction that the Tirpitz represented to Allied shipping, and they decided to sink her while she was in port. Many operations were launched with this objective in mind, but none of these were completely successful in sinking her until she was bombed by Royal Air Force heavy Lancaster bombers and capsized on 12 November 1944.

Offensive actions by the Tirpitz

Operation Sportpalast

Operation Sportpalast was an attempt to interdict the convoys PQ-12 and QP-8 in early March 1942. PQ-12 sailed from Iceland on 1 March 1942, and QP-8 sailed from Murmansk at about the same time. On 5 March 1942 Tirpitz, escorted by three destroyers, left her base and made a sortie into the Arctic Ocean in the area around Bear Island (Norway). During the following days the German force had no luck finding either convoy. Only one merchant ship was found and sunk by one of the screening destroyers. On 9 March 1942 Tirpitz was spotted by aircraft from the carrier HMS Victorious and after unsuccessful British air attacks, the German commander, Admiral Otto Ciliax, decided to abort the operation.

Operation Rlsprung

Tirpitz being launched, Wilhelmshaven
Tirpitz being launched, Wilhelmshaven
Tirpitz Data sheet
Tirpitz Data sheet

Operation Rlsprung was an attempt to intercept the Arctic convoy expected in late June 1942, PQ-17. Two naval forces were assembled and held ready: Tirpitz and Admiral Hipper at Trondheim; Admiral Scheer and L at Narvik, with nine destroyers as screens. These would assemble at Altenfjord when the convoy was detected, to attack as it passed Bear Island.

PQ-17, which departed Iceland on 27 June 1942, was heavily escorted, and there was also a powerful naval Task Force operating in the area. The convoy was detected on July 1st, and on July 2nd, the Tirpitz and her escorts left Trondheim for Altenfjord. This movement was perceived by British Intelligence as an offensive sortie, and on July 4 the Admiralty made the controversial decision to scatter the convoy. This was because of the intense threat presented by the Tirpitz against a closely-packed convoy. Following PQ-17's scattering, German U-boats and aircraft fell on the unescorted merchantmen and over the next ten days 24 merchant ships were sunk. The Tirpitz made a brief sortie on July 5th, but she was sighted almost immediately. She was ordered to return by Grand Admiral Raeder, who was concerned about a possible attack by the British Home Fleet, particularly from carrier aircraft. The sortie was aborted and the Tirpitz returned to port.


There is an unconfirmed claim made by Soviet/Russian sources that the Tirpitz was attacked and damaged by a Soviet submarine during her short sortie, but that is unsubstantiated. Some Soviets claimed that the German warships were attacked by the Russian submarine K-21, commanded by Hero of the Soviet Union N. A. Lunin, at 71?22'2?N 24?34'3?E? / ?71.36722?N 24.5675?E? / 71.36722; 24.5675 (45 miles from North Cape, Norway). Lunin supposedly fired four torpedoes at the Tirpitz, and then the crew heard two detonations. There is a strong degree of doubt upon this case. Since the 1960s, most German and British historians discount any torpedo hits on the Tirpitz or any other German ship, but in the Soviet Union this case was studied in naval officer schools as a textbook example of submarine attack.

On July 6th, the Tirpitz and her escorts were spotted from the air going south towards Norway at slow speed (12 knots as opposite to 20 in normal circumstances). From 8 July 1942 to 6 September 1943, the Tirpitz reportedly stayed in drydocks in Trondheim and in Narvik, Norway, supposedly under repair.

Operation Sizilien

Operation Sizilien was a raid on Spitsbergen (Svalbard) in September 1943. German troops landed on the islands, and supported by naval bombardment from the Tirpitz, Scharnhorst, and nine destroyers, the Germans occupied one island from 6 September to 9 September 1943. This was the only operation in which the Tirpitz fired her guns on enemy targets.

British attacks on Tirpitz

Many attacks were made on Tirpitz, taking her out of action for months at a time and finally sinking her.

Operation Chariot

This was not an operation directly against Tirpitz herself, but on the only possible large dry dock she could use on the Atlantic coast. On March 28th 1942, a destroyer and 18 motor torpedo boats launched Operation Chariot against the Normandy Dock in St Nazaire, France.

Operation Source

The first successful attack on Tirpitz was a very risky and difficult operation. As part of Operation Source, British X class midget submarine placed an explosive charge beneath Tirpitz in September 1943. Lieutenant Basil Place commanding HMS X7, and Lieutenant Donald Cameron commanding HMS X6, both received the Victoria Cross for their part in the action, whilst three others received the Distinguished Service Order and one the Conspicuous Gallantry Medal.

The submarines had to be towed some 1,000 miles from base, then negotiate a minefield, dodge nets, gun defences and enemy listening posts. Losing two in transit (X-8 and X-9), one with mechanical faults and one when the tow-rope parted, the remaining three craft (X-5, X-6 and X-7) having eluded these hazards and frustratingly faulty periscopes, finally placed at least four 2-ton Amatol side-charges underneath Tirpitz, where they detonated before her crew could be mustered to manhandle the ship away. The blast lifted Tirpitz two metres, causing severe damage. She was maintained then as a deception for six months as repairs were undertaken. The British, believing her to be seaworthy, devoted immense resources to neutralising what was a crippled ship. Six months later she was seaworthy again. The story of this attack was published in a book by Donald Cameron VC, and is the basis of the 1955 film Above Us The Waves.

Operation Tungsten

By April 1944, Tirpitz had been repaired and posed a renewed threat. In response, the British executed Operation Tungsten, an attack by carrier-borne aircraft of the Royal Navy's Fleet Air Arm. A significant part of the Home Fleet took part, including two battleships, two fleet aircraft carriers, five escort aircraft carriers, two cruisers, sixteen destroyers with support from two oilers. Steps were taken, including phoney wireless traffic, to hide their departure from Scapa Flow. The air attack was launched on 3 April, a day earlier than planned, catching Tirpitz while she was preparing for departure on trials.

The air attacks were in two waves of Fairey Barracuda torpedo bombers with escorting fighters. A variety of bombs were carried: anti-submarine bombs that would cause damage even if they exploded in the water around her, armour piercing bombs capable of penetrating deck armour, smaller bombs that could penetrate superstructure armour, and general purpose bombs that would be effective against the crew and the anti-aircraft weapons they were manning (torpedoes were not used). The defences were poor and ill-organised, and the attack faced little effective opposition. Some of the fighters contributed by strafing the decks with machine gun fire. The first attack was at 05:30. By 08:00 the Royal Navy had landed all but three planes that had been lost. Tirpitz had lost 122 crew killed and 300 wounded. The ship's armour was not penetrated, though near misses caused some flooding. The damage to the superstructure was significant and took two months to repair.

Operations Planet, Brawn, Tiger Claw and Mascot

The threat remained and further operations were planned. Three air attacks (Operations Planet, Brawn and Tiger Claw) were cancelled, in April and May 1944, due to poor weather.

The next carrier-borne attempt was Operation Mascot, in July 1944. By this time, however, the Germans had set up effective warning and smoke systems which effectively obscured Tirpitz from the attacking aircraft. Apart from one near-miss, the raid was a failure.

Operations Goodwood I, II, III and IV

Tirpitz underwent sea trials in early August 1944. Three weeks later the Fleet Air Arm launched more attacks with little success.

Operations Goodwood I and Goodwood II took place on 22 August. Low cloud obscured Tirpitz and there were no hits.

Goodwood III, on 24 August, successfully confused the air defences by its approach tactics and scored two hits on the Tirpitz. One 500 lb (227 kg) semi-armor piercing (SAP), dropped from a Hellcat, dished the top of "B" turret, damaged the elevating gear of its starboard 15 in (38 cm) gun, and wrecked a quadruple 20mm antiaircraft mount. The other, a 1,600 lb (725 kg) armor piercing (AP) dropped from a Barracuda, pierced the ship's armour belt and came to rest in the Number 4 electrical switchboard room, but failed to explode, 'an exceptional stroke of luck'. Had it done so, the subsequent Kriegsmarine report said, '... the effects of that explosion would have been immeasurable.' It is likely Tirpitz would have sunk as a result.

The escort aircraft carrier HMS Nabob returned to Scapa Flow after being seriously damaged by a torpedo hit from U-boat U-354.

The final Fleet Air Arm attack was Goodwood IV, on 29 August, but low cloud again prevented any hits. After this, the fleet withdrew on convoy duties and Tirpitz was left to the Royal Air Force.

Operations Paravane, Obviate and Catechism

Tirpitz in Norway, 1944
Tirpitz in Norway, 1944

The Royal Air Force and the United States Army Air Forces proposed several schemes to attack Tirpitz using Mosquito fighter-bombers, Short Sunderland flying boats or B-17 Flying Fortress heavy bombers, but none were carried out.

Three attacks were made by the RAF using Avro Lancasters of 617 and 9 Squadrons led by Wing Commander "Willie" Tait. The first, "Operation Paravane", was launched on 15 September from a temporary base at Yagodnik, near Arkhangelsk in the Soviet Union. The aircraft were equipped with Barnes Wallis' five-tonne Tallboy bombs and experimental 500 lb (227 kg) "Johnny Walker" underwater "walking" mines. Although a smokescreen protected Tirpitz from all but one of the bombs, one of No. 9 Squadron's bombs hit the bow making the battleship unseaworthy. A German report stated, "It was eventually decided at a conference on 23 September 1944 at which the C-in-C and Naval Staff were present, that it was no longer possible to make Tirpitz ready for sea and action again?", as there was almost no means to get the ship back to a drydock that could repair the damage. The British were unaware of this and continued their attacks.

In October, as Tirpitz was no longer considered by the Kriegsmarine to be a seaworthy warship, she was moved further south to Scotland.

"Operation Obviate", with Lancasters flying from Lossiemouth in Scotland carrying Tallboy bombs, took place on 28 October. At the last moment, sea-clouds hid Tirpitz, and there was only one near-miss that bent a propeller-shaft.

Tirpitz capsized in 1944
Tirpitz capsized in 1944

The smokescreen was not in place for the third attack, "Operation Catechism", on 12 November 1944 by 9 Squadron and 617 Squadron Lancasters with Tallboys. The ship was struck by three Tallboys: one glanced off turret armour, but the other two pierced the ship's armour and blew a 200 foot hole in her port side starting internal fires which set off a magazine and blew off "C" turret. Tirpitz finally sank immediately to the west of

The Lancaster B.1 Specials used had had the mid-upper turret and some armour removed so they would have been highly vulnerable to fighter attack, but the Luftwaffe failed to intercept the bombers. The reasons cited for this failure are contradictory. The bombers approached from Sweden's air space; the route may have suggested an attack on the airfield at Bardufoss; and Luftwaffe responses to Tirpitz's calls for help claimed there were aircraft "overhead". The local air defence systems may have been inadequate and the German pilots had not yet been fully trained on their new Focke-Wulf 190 aircraft. Major Heinrich Ehrler, who both led the defensive sortie in the area of the Tirpitz and was also the commander of Luftwaffe forces in Norway (Jagdgeschwader 5), was charged with negligence of duty following the sinking and sentenced to death, later reduced to three years of fortress imprisonment, loss of his command, and transfer to a fighter unit in Germany.

One aircraft from 9 Squadron (LM488) lost an engine after being hit by anti-aircraft fire on the bombing run, but the crew were able to crash-land in Sweden and were repatriated.

The destruction of Tirpitz removed the last major surface threat to allied control of the north Atlantic. This freed the capital ships?battleships and aircraft carriers?that had been retained in the Home Fleet as a precaution, allowing Britain to reinforce the Eastern Fleet in the Indian Ocean, establish the British Pacific Fleet, and take a much more aggressive posture against the Japanese in the Far East.

Tirpitz as scrap

Postwar the wreck was sold off and broken up in situ by a Norwegian company. Nearly the entire ship was cut up and hauled away. However, a large portion of the bow remains where it sank in 1944. Amongst other things, the ship's electrical generators were used for a temporary power station, supplying the fishing industry around Near the wreck-site there are artificial lakes along the shore bomb craters from Tallboy bombs that missed their target. To this day, sections of Tirpitz armour plates are used by the Norwegian Road Authority ("Vegvesen") as temporary road surface material during roadwork. Additionally, a large chunk of the armour plating is held at the Royal Naval 'Explosion!' museum in Gosport, Hampshire.

Commanding Officers

  • Construction Indoctrination ? KzS Friedrich Karl Topp, 15 January 1941 ? 25 February 1941
  • KzS Friedrich Karl Topp, 25 February 1941 ? 24 February 1943
  • KzS Hans Karl Meyer, 24 February 1943 ? 1 May 1944
  • KzS Wolf Junge, 1 May 1944 ? 4 November 1944
  • KzS Robert Weber, 4 November 1944 ? 12 November 1944 (KIA)

External links for Terpitz

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